Ordering seafood tonight? Think twice about having the grouper.
Twenty of 162 grouper species are potentially threatened with extinction, according to the first comprehensive assessment of the fish, released this month. The groupers decline is driven by a lack of proper fisheries management and by overfishing both fueled by our appetite for the fish.
Overfishing Weakens Job, Food Security
Consumers pay as much as $50 per kilogram for grouper, but the true cost will be much greater if we harvest them until there are none left to eat. The declining fish populations that result from unsustainable fishing can threaten food security, especially in Southeast Asia, where 1 billion people rely on fish as their primary protein source.
As North American cod fishermen have already experienced, job security is also a concern.
Overfishing could decimate another major food and economic resource for humans, similar to the loss of the cod stocks off New England and Canada that has put thousands of people out of work, says Roger McManus, senior director of the marine program at Conservation International (CI).
The grouper assessment is part of an ambitious, ongoing series called the Global Marine Species Assessment (GMSA), which will study the state of nearly 15,000 marine species by 2010. CI has been working alongside the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and numerous other partners to lead the effort and help international scientists analyze threats to ocean species.
Groupers are mainstays in a multimillion-dollar live fish trade based in Hong Kong. The Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus), once one of the most commonly landed groupers in the islands of the Western Atlantic Ocean, is already categorized as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and has virtually disappeared from most Caribbean reefs.
Protection Beyond Protected Areas Required
Groupers are naturally vulnerable to overfishing. Several species do not reach reproductive maturity until later in life and could be fished out before they have a chance to reproduce. Additionally, commercial fishing often targets the reproductive gatherings of adults, further preventing unmanaged populations from being replenished.
Based on GMSA science, CI hopes to conserve the fish by better protecting and managing the waters in which they live. Grouper findings highlight the need to better protect outer reef areas beyond the boundaries of marine protected areas, and to manage spawning aggregations of many of the threatened grouper species.
The results are worrying and highlight the urgent need for fisheries management, more effective marine protected areas, and more sustainable eating habits for consumers of these fishes, Dr. Yvonne Sadovy, chairwoman of the IUCN Grouper and Wrasse Specialist Group, director of the Society for the Conservation of Reef Fish Aggregations, and associate professor at Hong Kong University.